Easter, Passover, Ramadan come with coronavirus restrictions

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Health officials are urging people across the country not to travel and gather in groups this month when observing Easter, Passover or Ramadan, as the U.S. enters what’s expected to be the deadliest stretch of the coronavirus outbreak.

April brings with it major religious events for the largest practicing groups in the U.S. Passover began Wednesday evening and extends through April 16; most Christians will celebrate Easter on Sunday, with Orthodox Easter the following week; and in about two weeks, the holy month of Ramadan will begin.

But for families across the country who are accustomed to traveling to gather with loved ones or hosting nearby friends and family, this year will look a lot different. About 95 percent of Americans are under stay-at-home orders of some kind, with domestic and international travel discouraged as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called for all people to avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people, making it difficult if not impossible to hold church services on Easter Sunday or host families and friends for a Passover Seder or an iftar during Ramadan.

State health officials are also reminding residents to maintain social distancing and stay at home during this month’s religious holidays.

Dawn Thomas, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Health, said that “while under normal circumstances these would be times to congregate for religious services and family gatherings,” state residents should continue to abide by Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) executive order from March directing most people to stay home until further notice.

“We understand that while this may be disappointing to many who look forward to spending time visiting with relatives and friends, it is imperative to limit human interaction in an effort to help slow the spread of the virus which causes COVID-19,” Thomas told The Hill.

New Jersey has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the U.S., behind New York, with more than 47,000 confirmed infections and more than 1,500 deaths.

Danielle Koenig, a public information officer for Washington state, said that even though health officials have seen social distancing efforts begin to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the virus in the state, now is not the time to ease up on restrictions.

“We would be worried about any gathering of people that doesn’t follow guidance because that allows the virus to spread. All people in Washington are advised to stay home, limit travel and take steps to stay healthy,” she said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) last week extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 4.

Some religious leaders have defied orders for social distancing ahead of the holidays, choosing instead to hold religious services with hundreds of worshipers.

In Louisiana, Pastor Tony Spell was arrested after church services were held in defiance of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

In Florida, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was charged with misdemeanor counts of unlawful assembly and violation of public health rules after leading services for hundreds of congregants at The River at Tampa Bay Church.

Other faith leaders have also been charged.

Some states have had internal battles over the restrictions. The Republican-led legislature in Kansas voted along party lines this week to strike down Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s coronavirus-related order limiting religious assemblies to 10 people.

But many faith leaders across the country are providing options for those who are looking to observe religious holidays while still practicing social distancing.

Seders and iftars will be held over FaceTime or Zoom, and Easter services are set to be livestreamed via church websites and social media.

Vice President Pence told reporters Wednesday that he will be participating in Easter celebration services online from his home in Washington, D.C. He encouraged Americans to follow coronavirus guidelines set forth by the government, like avoiding groups of more than 10 people and unnecessary travel.

Some state officials said religious leaders have a role to play in informing the public.

Thomas called on New Jersey faith leaders to “reach out to the members of the congregations and remind them that they should not be gathering for religious services or for meals until the ban is lifted.”

“We encourage leaders to notify their congregations of any livestreamed or televised services that may be available and provide them with suggestions on how they can create meaningful celebrations at home without gathering with others,” Thomas said.

Koenig also urged those who are observing religious holidays this month to “look to their faith leaders” on how to celebrate.

“There are ways to connect emotionally and socially with others while still remaining home and maintaining physical distancing,” she said.

Tags Christians Coronavirus Easter Florida Jay Inslee Jews Louisiana Mike Pence Muslims New Jersey Passover Ramadan Washington

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